On March 16, 2017, police officers reportedly arrested KMC College professor Sunil Waghmare in response to mounting controversy around a comment he made in an online conversation, which questioned the celebration of an Indian warrior king’s birthday. Professor Waghmare has also since been suspended from his position.
Professor Waghmare is head of the department of commerce at KMC College, in Khalapur, India. On March 15, 2017, Professor Waghmare reportedly made a comment in a group conversation on the mobile application WhatsApp in which he reportedly questioned the practice of celebrating the Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji’s birthday twice annually. In response to Professor Waghmare’s comment, fellow faculty members in the chat reportedly expressed outrage, with the chat administrator ultimately deleting the WhatsApp group. The next day, Professor Waghmare was reportedly attacked by faculty and students on campus in apparent retaliation for the comment, which had been captured via screenshot and circulated online. Police arrived on campus to maintain order and protect Professor Waghmare, however, they subsequently took him into custody, allegedly following the protest of the attackers.
On March 18, Professor Waghmare was taken to a court and charged under Section 295A of India’s penal code, which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and carries a sentence of up to three years imprisonment and/or a fine. A court granted him bail on March 20 after Professor Waghmare’s initial request was denied on grounds of personal safety. In addition to the criminal charges he is facing, Professor Waghmare has been suspended from his position at KMC College.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest and suspension of a scholar, as well as violence against a scholar in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. Violence, arrests, and disciplinary actions intended to limit academics’ expression undermine academic freedom and society generally. State authorities have a responsibility to protect members of higher education communities and the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association.